Abhishek Banerjee's wife need not appear before Customs till July 31: HC
Kolkata, Apr 8: The Calcutta High Court on Monday directed that Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee's wife Rujira Naroola will not have to appear before the Customs authorities on its summons till July 31.
A division bench of the high court directed the joint commissioner of Customs to extend the date of summons to a date after July 31 to enable the single bench to decide Naroola's petition challenging the summons. Naroola, who is a citizen of Thailand, was asked to appear before an assistant commissioner on Monday at 12 noon in connection with her alleged intentional obstruction of Customs officers from checking her baggage at the Kolkata airport on her arrival from Bangkok on March 16 in a Thai Airways flight.
The single bench of Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj had directed Naroola to appear before the Customs assistant commissioner in compliance with its summons issued on March 26, while asking the central government authority to not take any coercive action against her. Naroola challenged the order, through her counsel Ahin Chowdhury, before the division bench comprising Justices I P Mukerji and Md Nizamuddin claiming that the summons was illegal and prayed for a stay on it.
The division bench observed in its order that there was no allegation made of any illegal importation of gold in the complaint filed by Customs seven days after the incident took place at the airport. Appearing for the Customs authority, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi submitted that Naroola had refused to get her baggage examined on arrival from Bangkok.
Submitting that the baggage was allowed to be examined after persuasion, Lekhi said x-ray of the bags at the airport showed presence of gold. At that time, local police was called in by Naroola, who entered a restricted area and escorted her away from the airport. Lekhi submitted that investigation under the Customs Act can be done even if a police investigation is on, claiming that the two probes are distinct.
Submitting that there is no politics behind the summons issued to Naroola and that the Customs wants to do a proper inquiry only, Lekhi wondered why is she apprehensive about it. Naroola, on her arrival at the airport, was apparently selected randomly for checking by the Customs officials at the immigration counter. She filed a complaint with the NSCBI Airport police station on the same day alleging that she had been deliberately harassed and misbehaved with by the officials.
The Customs authorities also filed a complaint before the NSCBI Airport police station on March 22 stating that they were prevented from examination of the baggage of Naroola and her companion Menka Gambhir, who Naroola said was her sister. The Customs authorities alleged that they were voluntarily and intentionally obstructed by the two passengers, local police personnel and other unknown persons from exercising their power as conferred under the Customs Act.
Naroola's counsel had submitted before Justice Bharadwaj that the additional chief judicial magistrate of Barrackpore court had ordered the conversion of the complaint into an FIR and begin investigation into her claims. He submitted that the Customs authorities have no right to issue summons to the complainant on the same ground.
Counsel for the Customs submitted before the single bench that the central government authority is not considering Naroola as an accused. Claiming that there are some discrepancies in information declared by her, standing counsel for the centre Ravi Prakash said these need to be verified and she has been asked to appear before the joint director of Customs for this purpose.
Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of party supremo Mamata Banerjee, had on March 23 denied reports in a section of media that 2 kg gold was found in his wife's baggage when she landed in the city from Bangkok. Terming the allegations as baseless and politically motivated, Banerjee said in a press conference that his wife was "not carrying even two grams of gold" or any other dutiable or objectionable item in her baggage.